Sunday, April 18, 2010

Planeless sky

The unpronounceable Icelandic volcano has left my place of work quite empty. This last week was the largest demography conference of the year, and a large portion of my colleagues flew to Dallas for it. They have not been able to return.

This map (from the NYTimes) shows which European airports are currently closed. Rostock is right in the middle of the gray area, half way between Berlin and Copenhagen. The closest operating airports right now are Madrid (2500km), Rome (1700 km including crossing the Alps) or St. Petersburg (2 days by ferry), and they are all booked up. So I may not have many coworkers around until this dust blows over.

The sunsets have been colorful the last couple of days, and the horizon looks hazier than usual, but other than that and the lack of airplanes flying over, I can see no smoke. Also, the grocery stores are out of bananas.

The airlines are starting to question the science behind the flight ban. I am doubtful myself. The concentration of particles (which hasn't actually been measured in most places) must be pretty minute, as the emissions from a small eruption are dispersed over perhaps 100,000,000 cubic kilometers.

I come to that rough estimate because the effected area is about 5000km east to west, 5000km north to south and the cloud is about 4 km top to bottom. I've not seen an estimate for how many tons of ash are up there, or what concentration is dangerous, but I'm guessing the concentration of particulate matter up there is no higher than that over LA or Houston in the summer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Die Fledermaus

It was only the second warm evening of the year and a Friday no less, so I came home at 5. Iris, having also noticed the weather, was up at Warnemunde, strolling the beach line of the still frigid Baltic with a couple friends, so I decided to go for a walk myself. The riverfront in town, which as been transformed from port to shops and restaurants, had been surrendered all winter to the ice and wind. The brick walkways and cement steps along the riverfront were still strewn with New Year's Eve firecrackers and beer bottles. The ice that had covered the Unterwarnow was gone, and the only remaining snow was nubbins of the huge piles the city had dumped in a parking lot. I strolled along the waterfront, enjoying the presence of other people in a place that for six months had been abandoned, and watching the grebes bring up small wriggling bits of silver from the river. The Institute is on the waterfront and I came to it as the sun went down. I thought about going inside to see if any colleagues wanted to stroll with me, but decided instead to wander through the unoccupied lot next door. That whole section had been a major port and while much of it has been built over, much, including the peace next to the Institute has gone to grass and the occasional tree. A two-story heap of dirt and rocks, dug up to make space for some building's foundation, is all that distinguishes the lot from a small unmaintained park. As I gazed up at this heap in the fading light, something fluttered over and around it. The silhouette of a tiny bat flitted and floated, gliding and diving after nothing I could see. I tried and failed to detect any insects it could be after. yet it repeatedly visited the same spots, just under those exposed tree roots, just over the top of the dirt pile, just past that lighted window of the Institute. closing my eyes and concentrating, I could just barely hear its wings and a rapid ticking at the upper end of audibility, the lowest notes in its echolocation. I could hear no insects flying, calling or crawling. Watching the lightest part of the sky, I spotted a single midge flying a few feet from my head. Moments later it had disappeared into the hunting bat. This qualified me to be added to its circuit; on each subsequent round of the lot, it would make a small circle around me, perhaps a meter way, checking what other insects I may have attracted. I watched it past when I could see anything, and will return on subsequent dusks.

little posting

I"ve been posting not at all for a while; I have carpal tunnel syndrome, and can't easily type. However, over the next several days I will be posting several thing either dictated using dictation software, or copied and pasted.

The following is from the

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"PLoS Medicine, PLoS Biology and PLoS ONE do not consider for publication papers where any of the research costs or authors' salaries have been funded, in whole or in part, by a tobacco company. "